It is always easy to go with the crowd. It is always difficult to go against the crowd, and to stand alone. Any true prophet of God knows exactly all about this. They stand alone, misunderstood and condemned by their own people. Yet their fear of God takes priority over the rejection of men.
A.W. Tozer spoke to this in various places. He even wrote an article entitled “The Saint Must Walk Alone”. It is the last chapter of his 1966 classic, Man: The Dwelling Place of God. This short essay (originally penned for Eternity magazine), contains more spiritual firepower and insight than most sermons or books on Christian spirituality.
He begins his essay this way: “Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely. Loneliness seems to be one price the saint must pay for his saintliness.” He continues, “The truly spiritual man is indeed something of an oddity. He lives not for himself but to promote the interests of Another. He seeks to persuade people to give all to his Lord and asks no portion or share for himself. He delights not to be honored but to see his Saviour glorified in the eyes of men. His joy is to see his Lord promoted and himself neglected. He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk.”
He concludes, “The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful ‘adjustment’ to unregenerate society they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The world recognizes them and accepts them for what they are. And this is the saddest thing that can be said about them. They are not lonely, but neither are they saints.”
I want to illustrate these truths with two examples. For those desiring a rather frivolous, contemporary – and totally non-biblical – example of this, let me recount a recent sporting experience. A few months ago I was at a sacred site west of Melbourne.
I refer of course to Skilled Stadium (Kardinia Park), home to the mighty Geelong Cats. (OK, so now you know about one of my few extra-curricular passions in life.) I was there with a friend and fellow Cats fan to watch them play the new kids on the block, the Gold Coast Suns.
For those in the know, this is the newest team in the competition, and it is now where Gary Ablett Jr. plays, after deserting his home team, the Cats. For these and other reasons, there were not many Suns fans in attendance on the day.
Indeed, Geelong is a bit unique in this regard. If you go to a typical footy game in Melbourne, say between Hawthorn and Essendon, the crowd might be equally divided, having two Melbourne teams playing in front of Melbourne fans. But the situation at Skilled Stadium was quite different. There may only have been several dozen Suns fans in the whole park, with the rest of the 27,400 seats filled with rabid Cats fans.
I recall walking around the outside of the stadium at halftime, proudly wearing my Geelong scarf. Everywhere I looked I saw other devoted Cats fans. I felt entirely safe. I knew that just about everyone there was an ally, a friend, a fellow Geelong fan.
There was no worry at all about being out of place or being looked at with hostile eyes. I was surrounded by fellow believers. It was a nice feeling. And a rare one. I told my friend I could produce a sermon on all this (and here it is). I said that my normal work in the culture wars means I am surrounded not by friendly supporters, but by hostile opponents.
My work usually means I am often alone, out-numbered and out-gunned. The enemies of what I do are many, while those who support what I do seem few. So my very safe and pleasant experience at the Geelong ground that Saturday afternoon was quite unique. (And BTW, the Cats won handily that day.)
But for those who prefer a thoroughly biblical example of this, consider 1 Kings 22, which was part of my daily Scripture reading today. This chapter perfectly makes my point, and that of Tozer. The story is this: Ahab, the King of Israel asked Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, to unite with him to go take back the city of Ramoth Gilead from the Arameans.
Jehoshaphat was willing, but wisely suggested that they “first seek the counsel of the LORD.” That is always a good move, so Ahab brings together 400 prophets and asks them. “Yep, no probs, go for it – you will surely win big time” is their reply (but I take certain liberties with the text here).
But vv. 7-8 are quite remarkable: “But Jehoshaphat asked, ‘Is there no longer a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?’ The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah’.”
I love this verse. Micaiah never prophesies anything good about the king! Talk about a real prophet of God. He does not tell the King – or anyone else – what he wants to hear, but what he needs to hear. He tells him the truth in other words, regardless of the cost. And for this he is hated.
Actually Ahab had another thorn in his side earlier on. Another brave prophet refused to go with the flow and tickle the ears of the King. When Elijah came to Ahab (as recorded in 1 Kings 18:17), we read this: “When he saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel?’”
Now here was another troubler, Micaiah. Any true prophet of God will be seen by most as a troublemaker and a bearer of bad news. That must always be the way it is. The false prophets will always give you all the good news you want, they will always tickle your ears and whisper sweet nothings into them. But the real man of God will fearlessly proclaim the whole counsel of God, even if he must stand alone, and even if he must pay a heavy price for doing so.
In verse 14 we learn of what makes for a genuine prophet: “But Micaiah said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what the LORD tells me’.” Or as Paul said much later, “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27).
So he tells Ahab the truth about this campaign, and in the rest of the chapter we see how God’s word – and God’s word alone – comes to pass. When God is on your side, and his truth is with you, it does not matter if you stand against 400 false prophets.
Whenever we seek to faithfully represent our Lord, even to other believers, we must not waver for a moment in proclaiming God’s truth and that alone. We must not flinch in proclaiming a hard word when needed, even if it means we will be rejected, despised, mocked, ridiculed and forced to stand alone. Jesus was forced to stand alone – and die – for our sakes, so how can we do anything less in return?
Just as the handful of Suns fans would have been very brave indeed – especially if wearing their team colours – that day in Geelong, and just as Micaiah would have been extremely brave to defy the king and stand against the 400 false prophets, so too it will be for any real follower of Christ who puts Him and His will above all else.
And this will always result in living a lonely life. That is a spiritual principle which cannot be broken. As Tozer put it, “Always remember: you cannot carry a cross in company. Though a man were surrounded by a vast crowd, his cross is his alone and his carrying of it marks him as a man apart.”
May we faithfully and loyally carry our cross, no matter what the cost, and no matter how many friends and family members forsake us. That is the price we must pay for fully following our Lord. But to be alone with men is to be intimate with God. I know which one I prefer. Do you?
“I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me” (Jeremiah 15:17).